Compared with the doom and gloom at the start of the year, things were looking up by November. Not only did we bring you another drive of the Mercedes SLS – this time an undisguised production version – but also the scoop news of an £80k baby version pencilled in for production in 2013.
More excitement came with our first chance to sample the 261bhp Scirocco R. Given that VW went to the trouble of bringing the Scirocco to Wales for us to try, we thought it only appropriate to take along a Nissan 370Z and Focus RS to keep it honest.
The shock result: the VW, despite giving away 39bhp to the Ford, can keep up over a deserted mountain road and, for the rest of the time, it is the more appealing car. As Steve Sutcliffe put it: “Which can mean only one thing, that the VW beats the Ford overall and goes straight to the top of the class. And that’s something I didn’t think we’d be writing for a very long time indeed.”
But the highlight of November (perhaps the year) was the launch of the Ferrari 458 Italia, a car we’d seen for the first time only a few months earlier. For anyone looking at the Ferrari California and worrying that maybe Ferrari was losing its way, the 458 provided a very clear message: the boys and girls of Maranello still know a thing or two about making truly exceptional supercars. When it finally happens, Ferrari 458 vs Mercedes SLS vs McLaren MP4-12C will be one almighty group test. Until then, a couple of more prosaic comparisons.
First up, the new Vauxhall Astra faced four crucial rivals. GM’s latest was good enough to outclass the Kia Cee’d and Mazda 3, but not the VW Golf or our winner, the Ford Focus. Matt Prior concluded: “We can see what Vauxhall is trying to do; the Astra tries to blend the dynamism of the Focus with the solidity of the Golf. Yet somehow it has ended up less satisfying than either.”
Next we pitched BMW’s class-defying 5-series Gran Turismo against a Land Rover Discovery, Mercedes E-class, Audi Allroad and Lexus RX450h. Could the BMW bring together the best of this disparate group of cars? The short answer was no. The slightly more complicated answer was that although the BMW looked good on paper, in practice a small boot and uncomfortable ride let it down.
BMW also figured heavily in our news coverage in November. The big story was the unveiling of the new 5-series, but there was also further speculation about the next M5. Curiously, BMW also released details of a one-off, 550bhp version of the current M5. Development boss Albert Biermann described it as the “M5 CSL we never built”. Sensing our disappointment, a week later BMW announced a limited-run, lightweight version of the M3 – a thinly disguised road-legal race car called the GTS.
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